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Reasoning Without Language

Posted 12 Nov 2012 at 17:33 UTC by steve

An interesting 2009 paper by Ronaldo Vigo and Colin Allen has been released online, titled How to reason without words: inference as categorization (PDF format). The paper takes on the common idea that reasoning is a singularly human activity that relies on our language-based conception of inference. The alternative model of reasoning presented in the paper could apply to nonhuman animals as well as to robots. From the introduction:

We describe an alternative framework that is capable of providing a unified approach to reasoning and the subsymbolic perceptual processes underlying similarity assessment, discrimination, and categorization. The framework is provided by the modal similarity theory (MST) of Vigo (2008), which we describe in ‘‘Modal similarity theory’’.

The paper looks at similarities and differences between the reasoning abilities of animals such as dogs and young human children. It then attempt to build a plausible case for how inference could be accomplished without language. An experiment involving similarity assessment of iconic images is described. A connection is drawn between similarity assessment and boolean operators. Finally they propose that reasoning is based on more fundamental, non-linguistic processes that include discrimination, categorization, and similarity assessment.

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Random Robot Roundup

Posted 10 Nov 2012 at 02:27 UTC (updated 10 Nov 2012 at 16:13 UTC) by steve

Purdue University received a $6 million grant to develop an autonomous agricultural robot capable of pruning grape vineyards and apple orchards. Let's hope the Purdue robot puts up a fence around the orchard to keep out the Robo-squirrels being developed at the University of California. UC is also advancing the state of the art in split-brain research. Other brain research this week includes an MIT study of what actually happens when the brain passes from consciousness to unconsciousness. A better understanding of the human brain may help researchers finally get artificial intelligence right - Noam Chomsky says they've been getting it wrong all this time. Poly Bug sent us a link to CIROS, a Korean humanoid robot who slices cucumbers and tosses salads. Franke Tobe of the Robot Report let us know about a new article he's posted about Eldercare Robots. And The Swirling Brain spotted an article describing a new method proposed by physicists that may finally settle the question of whether or not our reality is just a computer simulation. Know any other robot news, gossip, or amazing facts we should report? Send 'em our way please. Don't forget to follow us on twitter and Facebook. And now you can add us to your Google+ circles too.

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Free Your Mind: The Return of FreeIO.org

Posted 9 Nov 2012 at 01:13 UTC by steve

Long-time readers will remember in the early 2000s we had frequent stories of open hardware board designs from a website called FreeIO.org. The FreeIO.org project was started by Diehl Martin, better known as Marty. He named all his boards after breakfast foods, which gave us the opportunity to write fun headlines like "Hot Grits for your Robot". Other boards were called Donut, Toast, Cornbread, Biscuit, Juice, and Flapjack. Schematics, CPLD source, CAD files, Gerber files, were all released under the GNU GPL. Marty's designs were also raised as an example when Jim Turley wrote his famously wrong prediction in 2002 that open source hardware would never become widespread. But in 2004, things slowed down when Marty announced he'd been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He continued to work on new boards until he posted his farewell message in 2006. Marty passed away in October of 2007. After that, the FreeIO.org project ground to a halt for a few years. But today, the FreeIO.org website was relaunched! From the announcement:

"The time has come to get things rolling again and I’m starting with a relaunch of the website. Marty’s free hardware designs are still here and hopefully we’ll find volunteers to work on new hardware projects to add. I’ll also start updating the resource pages to make them more useful again. Meanwhile, I’ve decided to make the site more immediately useful by aggregating all the free hardware and open hardware news, so members of the open hardware community can have one central place to find out what’s going on."

We're not sure where the website is headed in the future but we're glad to see FreeIO.org back online and look forward to using them as a reliable open hardware news source. They're already posting news updates from the major open hardware and free hardware organizations such as the Open Source Hardware User Group, the Open Source Hardware Association, and the Open Source Hardware and Design Alliance. Who knows, if we're lucky, maybe we can drum up support for an open source robot controller board!

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Robotdalen Innovation Award Competition

Posted 8 Nov 2012 at 16:29 UTC by steve

The 2013 Robotdalen Innovation Award Competition is now open for nominations. Do you have a robot that's innovative and has commercial potential? Does it have a sound theoretical foundation that has been translated into reality? Does it benefit the environment and society? If so, head on over to the Robotdalen award criteria and application page and fill out the form. If you win, you'll receive "hands-on help from the Swedish robotics initiative, Robotdalen, to further develop and commercialize [your] innovative robotics solutions". This is an international competition open to entrepreneurs, researchers, inventors, start-ups, robot developers, even students. Oh, and did we mention the winner also gets a €6,000 cash prize? You've got until January 13 to submit your application. Pictured above are the 2012 award winners. Photo by Terése Andersson. Read on to see videos of the 2012 event and the call for entries in 2013.

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Robots Reduce Cost of Science for USGS

Posted 7 Nov 2012 at 17:18 UTC (updated 7 Nov 2012 at 17:36 UTC) by steve

After a contentious election, the US Government will be returning to business as usual soon and one thing both sides agree on is that the cost of government needs to be reduced. A recent report by the US Geological Survey illustrates how robots are helping out with this problem. Airborne scientific observation missions can cost as much as $30,000 per hour. The USGS is replacing these expensive airborne data gathering missions with remotely piloted vehicles, or drones, which can complete an entire mission for $3,000. So far the USGS is using the Honeywell T-Hawk Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) and AeroVironment Raven RQ-11B. The Raven in particular has other advantages over manned missions besides cost. From the report:

The initial USGS mission in March 2011 studied the annual north-south migration of endangered sandhill cranes from Arizona through Colorado to Montana and Wyoming. The cranes fly north in the first part of February and spend much of each spring in Colorado’s San Luis Valley at the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. Thermal cameras capturing images of the cranes at roost were used to determine population trends in collaboration with the FWS. “Because the Raven is small and quiet, it could fly low enough – 75 feet – to photograph the birds without disturbing them. Moreover, the mission cost only one-tenth of a conventional airborne survey"

Having proved that using robotic aircraft can dramatically reduce costs, the USGS is looking for other missions that can take advantage of the drones. They'll soon be replacing conventional aircraft in climate change studies, geophysical fault and fracture mapping missions, and other tasks. The USGS will team with NASA Ames Research Center to use the SIERRA UAS. They also hope to increase the autonomy of the planes, further reducing the need for expensive human interaction. Read on to see photos and video of the USGS drones in action.

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Help Give Wings to RoboBrrd and STEM

Posted 5 Nov 2012 at 17:40 UTC (updated 5 Nov 2012 at 17:40 UTC) by steve

Remember back in 2008, when we helped send RobotGrrl to Stanford's EPGY AI program by buying Styrobots? If you've followed her progress since then, you probably know that she went on to become the host of the eccentrically entertaining Robot Party, a weekly podcast/Google Hangout about robots. She's also been busy developing an educational robot called RoboBrrd.

"We have shown RoboBrrd at various Maker Faires, and kids are instantly attracted to its soft and friendly appearance. They observe how it works, ask questions about how it functions, and they can envision themselves building one. The hands-on learning experience of building RoboBrrd is important to establish problem solving skills that can help in future robotic projects and STEM related studies. RoboBrrd is a great project to bridge the real-world lessons to the theoretical side."

This is where you come in - RoboBrrd is ready to go into production as a kit and you can help RoboGrrl and STEM education by contributing to the RoboBrrd Indiegogo campaign. The money will go towards manufacturing RoboBrrd kits. The design is completely Open Source hardware and software You can check out the RoboBrrd Instructable if you'd like to build your own using popsicle sticks and an Arduino! Read on to see some video of RoboBrrds in action!

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Robots Podcast #116: Dmitry Grishin

Posted 4 Nov 2012 at 17:59 UTC (updated 10 Nov 2012 at 21:20 UTC) by John_RobotsPodcast

photo of Dmitry Grishin

Dmitry Grishin is co-founder and chairman of the Mail.Ru Group, the largest Internet company in the Russian-speaking world and one of the biggest in Europe. He joined the company in 2001 after graduating from the Faculty of Robotics and Complex Automation at Moscow State Technical University. To help drive mass-market penetration of new robotics products, Grishin founded Grishin Robotics in 2012 with an initial personal investment of $25 million. His firm, located in New York, funds start-up companies that are ready to ramp-up production of already proven robotic prototypes.

Read On | Tune In | Transcript

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Random Robot Roundup

Posted 2 Nov 2012 at 18:41 UTC by steve

This week's roundup starts with news from Joanne Pransky about a new tandem robot arm system from ST Robotics. Juxi from IDSIA let us know about a new promo video they've made called "Towards Intelligent Humanoids" - it's about their "ongoing efforts to apply AI algorithms to create autonomous, adaptive, intelligent behaviors". The Swirling Brain sent a few stories our way including news that a human driver narrowly won over an autonomous robot car in an auto race where speeds reached 185kph. It seems robots may soon beat the world's best ping-pong players too. And the Brain also sent a link to a cool, crowd-funded, open-source software created, CC-licensed movie about robots and cyborgs called Tears of Steel. We also heard from Andrew of PhoenixGarage.org, who saw our recent interview with David L. Heiserman and thought readers might like to check out his interview with Dave back in 2008. Finally, Kra5h sent a link to his instructable demonstrating clever uses for a 555 timer in astable mode. Know any other robot news, gossip, or amazing facts we should report? Send 'em our way please. Don't forget to follow us on twitter and Facebook. And now you can add us to your Google+ circles too.

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First Micro-structure Atlas of Human Brain

Posted 1 Nov 2012 at 18:35 UTC by steve

A University College of London news release has announced the completion of the first ever Micro-structure Atlas of the human brain by a consortium of EU organizations known as the CONNECT Project. The release notes that "the project’s final results have the potential to change the face of neuroscience and medicine over the coming decade." The brain atlas combines 3D images from MRI brain scans of 100 volunteers. Along the way, the CONNECT project developed new MRI methods to give unprecedented detail and improved accuracy. From the CONNECT project's final report:

"This unprecedented insight into white matter will open up new realms of possibilities in terms of both diagnostic and therapeutic strategies, as well as providing fundamental new insights to the connectivity and workings of the brain. By being able to probe white matter to this new level of detail, and combined with detailed assessment of brain function, we will obtain
an unparalleled holistic view of the brain."

For a much more in-depth description along with graphics and other data, see the CONNECT project's Executive Summary (PDF format). The proliferation of new brain mapping projects in recent years gives the feel of the early days of the Human Genome project and may well prove to have an equally large impact on all fields science including AI and robotics. See also our recent coverage of the Brain Architecture Project, which completed a 500 Tera-byte whole-brain wiring diagram. Unlike the Brain Architecture Project, the CONNECT Project is mapping in-vivo, or living brains.

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Aquatic Robotics

Wave Glider Mercury Rides out Sandy

Posted 31 Oct 2012 at 21:54 UTC (updated 1 Nov 2012 at 03:07 UTC) by steve

An autonomous Wave Glider robot named Mercury floated alone in the path of Hurricane Sandy about 100 miles east of Toms River, New Jersey. The robot survived 70 knot winds on the ocean's surface while its sensors gathered weather data and transmitted it in real time. The robot recorded a drop in barometric pressure of more than 54 mbars with a low of 946 mbars. The robot also carries cameras, wave sensors, fish trackers, hydrophones, temperature sensors, conductivity sensors, dissolved oxygen sensors, magnetometer, GPS, and a flurometer. For more details on what this robot does, see the article Air-Sea Interface Monitoring of Hurricanes at the Liquid Robots website. For some technical details of the robot itself, see the Wave Glider Technology Brief (PDF format) and Wave Glider Specifications document (PDF format). We've covered a variety of ocean glider robots in the past including a Robots Podcast interview with Oscar Schofield of Rutgers on underwater gliders, and older articles on the Rutgers Gliders and Slocum Gliders. Read on to see more photos and video of Wave Gliders in action.

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